Literature is literally "acquaintance with letters" as in the first sense given in the Oxford English Dictionary (from the Latin littera meaning "an individual written character (alphabet"). The term has generally come to identify a collection of texts or works of art, which in Western culture are mainly prose, both fiction and non-fiction, drama and poetry. In much of, if not all, the world texts can be oral as well and include such genres as epic, legend, myth, ballad, plus other forms of oral poetry, and folktale.
Nations can have literatures, as can corporations, philosophical schools or historical periods. Popular belief commonly holds that the literature of a nation, for example, comprises the collection of texts which make it a whole nation. The Hebrew Bible, Persian Shahnama, the Indian Mahabharata, Ramayana and Thirukural, the Iliad and the Odyssey, Beowulf, and the Constitution of the United States, all fall within this definition of a kind of literature.
More generally, one can equate a literature with a collection of stories, poems, and plays that revolve around a particular topic. In this case, the stories, poems and plays may or may not have nationalistic implications. The Western Canon forms one such literature.
The term "literature" has different meanings depending on who is using it and in what context. It could be applied broadly to mean any symbolic record, encompassing everything from images and sculptures to letters. In a more narrow sense the term could mean only text composed of letters, or other examples of symbolic written language (Egyptian hieroglyphs, for example). An even more narrow interpretation is that text have a physical form, such as on paper or some other portable form, to the exclusion of inscriptions or digital media.
Furthermore, people may perceive a difference between "literature" and some popular forms of written work. The terms "literary fiction" and "literary merit" often serve to distinguish between individual works. For example, almost all literate people perceive the works of Charles Dickens as "literature", whereas some critics look down on the works of Jeffrey Archer as unworthy of inclusion under the general heading of "English literature". Critics may exclude works from the classification "literature", for example, on the grounds of a poor standard of grammar and syntax, of an unbelievable or disjointed story-line, or of inconsistent or unconvincing characters. Genre fiction (for example: romance, crime, or science fiction) may also become excluded from consideration as "literature".
Frequently, the texts that make up literature crossed over these boundaries. Illustrated stories, hypertexts, cave paintings and inscribed monuments have all at one time or another pushed the boundaries of "literature".
Different historical periods have emphasized various characteristics of literature. Early works often had an overt or covert religious or didactic purpose. Moralizing or prescriptive literature stems from such sources. The exotic nature of romance flourished from the Middle Ages onwards, whereas the Age of Reason manufactured nationalistic epics and philosophical tracts. Romanticism emphasized the popular folk literature and emotive involvement, but gave way in the 19th-century West to a phase of so-called realism and naturalism, investigations into what is real. The 20th century brought demands for symbolism or psychological insight in the delineation and development of character.
The Muslim Scientist and Philosopher Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq defined Literature as follows: "Literature is the garment which one puts on what he says or writes so that it may appear more attractive." "The Great Muslim Scientist and Philosopher Imam Jafar Ibn Mohammad As-Sadiq(a.s)" The Great Muslim Scientist and Philosopher Imam Jafar Ibn Mohammad As-Sadiq(a.s),Imam Hussain Publication, First Edition, ISBN 964-7371 12-8